The role of educational attainment and brain morphology in major depressive disorder: Findings from the ENIGMA major depressive disorder consortium

J Psychopathol Clin Sci. 2022 Aug;131(6):664-673. doi: 10.1037/abn0000738. Epub 2022 Jun 2.


Brain structural abnormalities and low educational attainment are consistently associated with major depressive disorder (MDD), yet there has been little research investigating the complex interaction of these factors. Brain structural alterations may represent a vulnerability or differential susceptibility marker, and in the context of low educational attainment, predict MDD. We tested this moderation model in a large multisite sample of 1958 adults with MDD and 2921 controls (aged 18 to 86) from the ENIGMA MDD working group. Using generalized linear mixed models and within-sample split-half replication, we tested whether brain structure interacted with educational attainment to predict MDD status. Analyses revealed that cortical thickness in a number of occipital, parietal, and frontal regions significantly interacted with education to predict MDD. For the majority of regions, models suggested a differential susceptibility effect, whereby thicker cortex was more likely to predict MDD in individuals with low educational attainment, but less likely to predict MDD in individuals with high educational attainment. Findings suggest that greater thickness of brain regions subserving visuomotor and social-cognitive functions confers susceptibility to MDD, dependent on level of educational attainment. Longitudinal work, however, is ultimately needed to establish whether cortical thickness represents a preexisting susceptibility marker. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2022 APA, all rights reserved).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Depressive Disorder, Major* / diagnostic imaging
  • Educational Status
  • Frontal Lobe
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging